Getting the Best Representation
If you have been charged with a crime, one of the first things you might be wondering is how to find a good lawyer. Obviously there are a lot of lawyers around and it is not difficult to hire one. But how do you find the absolute best representation that your money can buy? How can you find the person who will get you the best possible deal from the DA, and, if necessary, give you the best chance at trial?
If you are charged with a crime, especially a felony, good representation is absolutely critical to your defense. In tricky cases, there can be a fine line between acquittal and conviction and getting a top lawyer can tip the balance in your favor. Although public defenders are qualified and can usually offer a decent defense on legal principle, they are notorious for being underpaid, overworked, inexperienced, and sometimes even incompetent. How then, do you find the right lawyer, the one who will truly give you the best chance?
Dos and Don’ts
Just hiring a lawyer can seem daunting. You don’t know who is the best out there, and hiring the wrong person can be both an expensive and life-altering mistake. It is not uncommon for people to fire their lawyer and then not have enough money left to hire better representation. Yet, on the other hand, many decisions in criminal cases need to be made quickly. Thus, it is essential to get quality representation, and get it fast.
Do not hire the first lawyer that comes up in Google search or any other internet search. Although any such person may be qualified, internet searches can be manipulated.
Do use legal services to research potential lawyers in advance. Make a list of top lawyers in your area from services like the American Bar Association, US News and World Report, Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell, Lawyers.com, and SuperLawyers.
Do ask for the opinion of other lawyers, if possible. Many lawyers will often have a pretty good idea of who is the best in their business.
Do ask for help. Ask your employer, family, and friends if they know a good lawyer, or if they can look into finding one. It never hurts to have extra insight.
Do read reviews of lawyers on your list. You can find legal reviews on websites like Avvo and Martindale. You can also get reviews from sites like Yelp and Google. Be aware that reviews from public resources like that latter can be manipulated.
Do give potential lawyers a phone call. Tell them about your legal issues and prepare some questions in advance, such as how much it costs for their services, whether they have had experience defending your type of case, and, importantly, who will be performing your legal work. Make sure they give smart, straightforward, and non-evasive answers.
Do consider lawyers who have had former experience as prosecutors. In fact, defense lawyers with experience in a district attorney’s office will often have valuable insights in how cases are prosecuted. However, many great lawyers don’t necessarily have DA experience.
Do not waste time with long interviews or office tours. Most top lawyers already have large numbers of clients and their time is valuable. In fact, many top lawyers will just hang up the phone on you if you ask too many questions.
Do hire a lawyer who will talk to you. Nothing is more frustrating or stressful than being unable to get in touch with your lawyer when you are facing criminal prosecution. Make sure you hire someone with a record of being responsive to clients.
Do not delay! If you are facing criminal prosecution, you should spend at most a few days researching lawyers. In fact, it is often possible to find a quality lawyer within 24-48 hours.
To be very clear: Good representation does not come cheap. On average, you can expect to pay between $150 to $700 an hour for a good lawyer. Even for low misdemeanors, pretrial retainer fees will be about $1500 to $2500, and as high as $3000. If you go to trial, you can expect to pay about twice as much.
Felony representation is even more costly. According to CostHelper.com, defendants in felony cases should expect to pay a basic retainer between $5,000 and $10,000 for most felonies. However, getting a real big-time attorney can be substantially more. For example, legendary Portland defense attorney Stephen Houze reportedly charges a retainer of $250,000.
Retainers are not the only costs of criminal cases. For example, if you want to get expert testimony, that could cost an additional several thousand dollars. If you need to hire a private investigator to assist with your defense, that will incur more costs. Likewise, your lawyer may want to perform their own analysis of the evidence; you could end up paying for medical or psychological evaluations or the cost of analyzing your own DNA.
If you go to trial, you will have to pay trial fees to your attorney. Usually, trial fees will be at least as much as the initial retainer. For those who can afford it, it can be helpful to purchase Trial Simulation or Mock Jury Research. In mock trials, real people will sit and listen while your attorney and a designated mock prosecutor argue your case. This “shadow jury” can often provide valuable insights into how the actual criminal case will proceed. However, shadow juries are usually too expensive for all but the most wealthy clients.
Ultimately, there is no magic bullet to hiring a lawyer. Sometimes, even a highly qualified lawyer can be a personality clash that can impede your defense. In serious cases where your career and life are on the line, setbacks or a lack of immediate results can make it seem like your lawyer is doing a bad job even when they are not.
Finally, if you have already hired a lawyer and aren’t sure if they are truly getting you the best representation, one simple thing you can do is consult another lawyer. You can tell them you already have a lawyer, forward them the discovery or other evidence against you, and ask for a second opinion based on what is known about your case. Just like you would get a second opinion on a cancer diagnoses or terminal illness, it is often not a bad idea to get second opinions on your legal issues, especially if you are facing serious consequences.
Many lawyers will offer free consultations, but even among those that charge for consultations, getting a second opinion will not be cost prohibitive and can be well worth it. If you get a second or third opinion from other lawyers that is similar to your own lawyer, it is probably best to stick with the person you already have. However, if you get other opinions that are drastically different from what your lawyer has told you, you may need to reconsider where you are going with the case.